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PROSPECT PULSE: Fortier showed character, grit despite multiple injuries

'Pesky' forward led Halifax as captain despite playing through pain; looking forward to impressing in first training camp with Columbus.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

First, it was a shoulder injury.

After that healed, knee and ankle injuries on the same leg nagged forward Maxime Fortier last season with the Halifax Mooseheads, after he'd signed with the Blue Jackets in November as an undrafted free agent from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

"It wasn't a good year for injuries," said Fortier, 20, who was the Mooseheads' captain in his last season of junior hockey. "It was the first year, actually, I got injured. In my previous three years, I only missed four games in 160, so it was a weird year - but I wanted to still keep playing and help the team. It's just part of the game and I had to play with them."

Fortier did more than just play through pain. Despite his injuries, he had 75 points on 32 goals and 43 assists in 61 games - adding eight points (five goals, three assists) in nine playoff games. His point total was 12 less than he had in 2016-17, but Fortier learned more about himself as a player.

"It was nothing serious, but when both [injuries] are on the same side - I lost half the power of the leg," he told BlueJackets.com. "With the therapists and the doctors, we worked together to make sure I was able to play and not make it worse. It wasn't easy, but you have to learn how to play through pain sometimes. We were joking about it at the end of the season, but I think I missed only eight games during the season and I probably should've missed 20."

That kind of grit, along with Fortier's intensity, impressed the Blue Jackets - who were among multiple teams to extend a contract offer last season. After getting his signature Nov. 4, 2017, the Jackets' hockey-operations staff learned even more about the 5-foot-10, 183-pound forward from Montreal.

Shortly after signing, Fortier sustained the shoulder injury, which was followed by the ankle and knee issues in December. The leg injuries stayed with him the rest of the season, and the Jackets observed how Fortier handled it - getting input from a scout based in eastern Quebec and sending development coaches Chris Clark and Gregory Campbell to Halifax games.

"He had some injuries this year that he battled through," said Clark, who opted to keep Fortier off the ice at development camp this summer. "We got a good idea of what type of player he is. He's fast, he's quick, he sees the ice well [and] he's got a great shot. They kept him off the ice [in Halifax] for practice days in the second half of the season, but he battled through every little thing he had."

Fortier also made a good impression, on the Blue Jackets and his teammates in Halifax - including high-scoring forward Filip Zadina, the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings.

"He was undrafted, but he deserves to get on track to the NHL," said Zadina, who's from the Czech Republic and played his first season in North America with Halifax. "It was good to see him on the ice, because he's a pretty unbelievable player. I was watching him on the ice, trying to learn something from him. He couldn't play at 100 percent, but he was still there and trying to do it for the team. He was battling, for sure."

The Blue Jackets expect Fortier to bring that same mentality to the ice for them in September, first at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and then at training camp.

"I think he'll have an immediate impact," Clark said. "He'll fight and produce in training camp. If he ends up in Cleveland [in the American Hockey League], I think he's going to be a huge addition to that team, as well. He's smart, but he's tenacious too. Even for his size, he gets in the corners. He's a pesky type of player, at times."

The competition among young forwards in Columbus will be steep, though.

Aside from Fortier, the Blue Jackets also have high hopes for 21-year old winger Jonathan Davidsson, 20-year old center Vitaly Abramov, 23-year old power forward Eric Robinson and 21-year old forward Kole Sherwood.

All five are coming off strong seasons in the junior or college ranks, looking to do the same as professionals. Columbus will also take a look at 25-year old rookie center Alex Broadhurst, who finished last season on the NHL roster, and the Jackets signed a pair of NHL forwards this summer - center Riley Nash, 29, and 22-year old forward Anthony Duclair.

Despite all that depth, Fortier is looking forward to his first training camp with Columbus. He got his first taste of an NHL camp last year with the Montreal Canadiens, as a free-agent invite, but this will be different.

He's signed with an NHL team now and will begin his pro career, whether it's with the Blue Jackets or one step away with the Cleveland Monsters.

"You always want to go into training camp with the mindset that you will create a surprise," said Fortier, who expects to be at full strength when camp opens. "I won't lie to you. I don't think I'm going to play in the NHL this year, but you never know, so I'm going in with the mindset that I'm going to make the team. I'm going to do everything in my capability to make that happen. I'm just going to play my game and show them why they liked something about me."

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